Forgotten Artifacts: The Rectangular Excellence of Lauer’s Yamaha TQ5

Forgotten Artifacts explores the vintage gear found in studios around the world. This time, Running Back and Permanent Vacation regular Lauer shows off the boxy design and profound sound of his Yamaha TQ5.

5 min
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Feb 11, 2020

As a great friend of cool presets and synths that look like answering machines, my favourite piece of vintage gear is the not-so-well-known Yamaha TQ 5.

The mothership of the Yamaha DX series, the DX7 came out in 1983. It’s a full-on digital synth, and the concept is called Frequency Modulation (FM). It is a bit complicated to program, but once you get the hang of it, it’s great. The TQ5 — basically a smaller table-top version of the Yamaha DX series with all the pros and cons — was added to the family in 1988 as one of the last DX series, but it totally tanked when it was released. This is most likely because FM sounds were not as cool at the time. My best guess would be that maybe it was because analogue synths were starting to come back, and perhaps people had had enough of crystal clear super-precise digital ’80s action?

It has — at least to my ears — a super well-selected set of presets: tropical pads, strings, percussive synths, and synth-basses rather than real sounds. It has, what you might call, an artificial synthetic character, or as I like to call it, “sterile with style.” As I mentioned earlier, it was released five years after the DX7, and I believe the Yamaha team learned from user feedback and added a Quick Edit section, which allows you to access some basic parameters very quickly, as the name suggests. I use this a lot. For example, taking a nice preset as a starting point and ending up with a great result (to my ears of course). One of the parameters of this Quick Edit menu is called Brilliance, which is a cleverly tuned filter/EQ that usually never disappoints. It is also quite easy to access the envelope section, which is very hands-on after playing around with it for just 10 minutes. Long Release Dream synths and some weird percussive stuff can be created easily too. I do have to admit, however, that I’ve never really used the built-in effects (usually I turn them off), nor the sequencer (probably never will).

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The TQ5 was initially built as a workstation when computers and DAWs couldn’t do much. I own various sound modules and synths that look like answering machines, but I find that I always come back to the TQ5 the most. Compared to its more famous DX companions, the machine’s sound aesthetic is slightly brighter and more cosmic.

A good example where it was used is the track “Klutzny,” which, together with my most clever brother Jacob Lauer, we released under our Hotel Lauer project via Emotional Especial. The main riff’s slow arpeggio like marimba sound comes from the TQ5.

I originally discovered and bought mine while getting lost in YouTube videos of synths. Sometimes, as many of us know, this can bring winners to the team and sometimes not. At the time, I bought it because its sounds were not so fashionable and it was super cheap. I honestly now feel a bit bad for contributing to making it more expensive these days.

I’d also like to add that it’s one of the best-looking music machines of all time, which is often an overseen or underrated category when judging an instrument. How is it even possible to get a heartfelt sound out of something that looks like a mechanical bumhole from the year 2010? But, to immediately contradict myself, I’d also like to add that, in general, I believe that it doesn’t matter what kind of machine, plug-in, or whatever you use. If it’s good music, it’s good music.

Lauer’s latest album Know You is out now via Permanent Vacation.

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